It was a Houston forensics tournament and Tyler Junior College student Mae Rose Hill had competed in the prose finals against six students from The University of Texas at Austin.
The presenter announced the awards starting with seventh place, which went to a student from UT Austin.
TJC speech professor and forensics director M’Liss Hindman said as the presenter continued through the awards, the crowd began to murmur. When third place went to another UT Austin student, the murmuring grew louder. And when second place went to another Longhorn, the whole audience applauded and cheered, Ms. Hindman said.
“The reason, it’s not anything against UT, because we love UT people. … But it was just that we compete with them week after week after week, and they are so phenomenal,” she said of the results in the fall 2013 competition. “It was just great to see that she … kind of slayed the dragon, you know … because that doesn’t happen that often.”
For more than 60 years, the Tyler Junior College Forensic Program has built a legacy of excellence, consistently ranking in the top 10 community colleges annually. Students also have won national competitions.
The students attributed the long-term success to their coaches; their coaches attributed it to the support of the college.
Ms. Hindman said the college knows how important theses skills are for the students regardless of the fields they go in to.
WHAT IS FORENSICS?
There are four categories of events. These include: public speaking, interpretation events, limited prep and debate, Ms. Hindman said.
TJC competes in the Phi Rho Pi community college circuit and the American Forensic Association, which pits them against four-year college students from schools, such as The University of Texas at Austin, Rice University and Texas A&M University.
The students say it’s the environment that really drew them into this world as well as a desire to further their speaking and acting skills.
“I feel like I meet some of the coolest people in the country at these tournaments …” sophomore Deshawn Weston, 19, of Grand Prairie, said. “There’s something about everyone that, you know, it just brings you all together. You find all the similarities.”
Weston competed in high school as did his TJC teammate Mae Rose Hill, 19, a sophomore from Tyler.
“What I love so much about what we do … (is that) it gives what I’m aiming to do — to be an actress and do theater or film — a purpose and it makes me realize that you have to be fighting for some sort of purpose because that’s the whole point is that you have to make an argument to support whatever cause. So that’s why I love it so much.”
PERFORMING WITH PURPOSE
Recently, inside the small library/study room that the TJC Forensic Team calls its own, the students demonstrated some of their skills.
With just a small book in hand and their characters in their heads, they launched into dramatic interpretations that drew their listeners into a story.
Freshman Shanick Ifield, 18, of Port Arthur, became the mother of school shooters as she recited a portion of Liza Long’s op-ed “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” about the challenges of raising a son with mental illness, and the need for a nationwide dialogue about the issue.
“You know, when I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime,” she said. “Yeah, yeah, no one will pay attention unless you’ve got charges.”
With an altered voice and gestures used for effect, Ms. Hill became the mouthpiece for a crab sharing about how the crab mentality has become an analogy to explain why marginalized groups remain disenfranchised within society.
“I understand that crabs must hate captivity, but loathe a wall with a crab on the other side more,” she said.
Freshman Tyler Larson, 19, of The Colony, recited poetry, as did Weston.
Joan Andrews, TJC speech professor and assistant forensics director, said the students “take important things that are happening today, and they not only intellectually make them meaningful, but they make you feel something too. So it’s intellect and it’s heart.”
GETTING IN CHARACTER
The process of getting a piece to presentation quality takes months of work. Ms. Hill said the presentations she and her peers made in January were the culmination of about seven months of work.
Starting in the summer, the students compile literature and articles to use, work through the pieces and prepare them for the first tournament in December.
Their coaches and former forensic team members work with them as well to get their pieces performance ready.
Weston said they do a lot of exercises to help them delve deeply into the character they are portraying. He said the coaches always try to make sure the pieces are something they can connect to and feel passionate about.
Once in the competitive season they enjoying learning from their opponents and taking in the completion.
“You’re sitting in a poetry round and … someone’s reading their piece and the whole audience is just like, ‘mmm,’ you know,” Ms. Ifield said. “And you learn so much, like you don’t even have to watch the news, just go to a competition. You’ll know what’s going on (in) the world because that’s what we read about and the points that we’re trying to get across whether it be … how the homeless are treated, how vets are treated, women — just anything that you can imagine.”
Larson said the events push his limits as an actor because he has to learn extreme character development. Being constantly in front of judges and a room full of people who are just as talented as you forces you to perform at your highest level.
“You gotta be on your toes and you gotta make people believe every single one of those characters,” he said. “So, it’s just really, it’s really fun and it’s always entertaining and it definitely helps as a performer and an actor.”
As for his future plans, Larson is considering attending a conservatory after TJC so he can focus on developing his skills as an actor.
“There’s just something about being on stage and connecting with the audience one on one,” he said.
Ms. Hill plans to transfer to a university and attend graduate school. Ultimately, she would like to live in New York and work in film, theater and commercials, she said.
“When I make it, I’d like to open a theater, do documentaries, produce films and all of that and act,” she said.
Weston is undecided at this point but is considering working in the film industry behind the camera.
Regardless of what their futures hold, they’re all enjoying the present and learning from it.
“I’ve seen some performances I would definitely pay to see,” Weston said. “So, to be able to have that on a weekend, the adrenaline, everything you learn, communication skills. … What you gain from competing, it teaches you self-discipline and … a good work ethic ’cause this is year-round. You really got to push yourself to stay dedicated, to get the results that you want that you know you can achieve.”